Welcoming the new Journal of Open Humanities Data

Some details of a new journal, coming from Ubiquity Press in the UK but with an international editorial board. It looks to offer a major and distinctive option for scholars to document and promote the reuse of digitised texts and other research data.

Webstory: Peter Webster's blog

After some months in the making, I am delighted to be able to draw attention to the new Journal of Open Humanities Data. I’m particularly pleased to be a member of the editorial board.

Fully peer-reviewed, JOHD carries “publications describing humanities data or techniques with high potential for reuse.”

The journal accepts two kinds of papers:

“1. Metapapers, that describe humanities research objects with high reuse potential. This might include quantitative and qualitative data, software, algorithms, maps, simulations, ontologies etc. These are short (1000 word) highly structured narratives and must conform to the Metapaper template.

“2. Full length research papers that describe different methods used to create, process, evaluate, or curate humanities research objects. These are intended to be longer narratives (3,000 – 5,000 words) which give authors the ability to describe a research object and its creation in greater detail than a traditional publication.

For more detail…

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Blog hand-off: Some reflections before shifting to occasional contributor mode

Photo on 6-12-15 at 1.23 PM

Gary as viewed by his computer

I started Omega Alpha | Open Access late in 2011 in response to a troublesome trend I was witnessing in my library—an increasing number of longstanding, highly regarded, and reasonably priced not-for-profit society and institution theological and religious studies journals were being acquired by commercial publishers through partnership deals or outright acquisition. The often immediate consequence of this trend, which especially got my attention as a library administrator, was the dramatic increases in subscription pricing.

When I inquired with the new publishers about the price increases, I received replies such as:

  • The old subscription price did not reflect the true value of the journal.
  • The old subscription price did not cover the true costs of publication.
  • Society journals frequently rely on volunteer labor, which obscures many of the costs of publication. We obviously cannot run our business without accounting for all costs.
  • We add value to the journal by providing full-text searchability and the option of backfile archival access on our online publishing platform. This platform requires a significant investment in technical infrastructure, expertise, and ongoing maintenance.
  • Subscriptions to humanities journals, including these journals in theology and religious studies, are really very reasonable when compared to the cost of journals in other disciplines.

When I inquired with journal editors about their decision to enter into a partnership with a commercial publisher, I received replies such as:

  • This partnership gives us access to professional publisher services (proofreading, layout and typesetting, marketing, reviewer management, and subscription management), enhanced/global visibility, and the ability to leverage publisher name recognition.
  • The partnership brings in added revenues to support other society programming.
  • Publication (printing) and distribution (mailing) costs are always rising and we were finding it hard to keep up.
  • We lacked the technical expertise and/or infrastructure to take our journal online.
  • We could no longer afford our office staff, and it is difficult to attract the needed volunteer labor to sustain publication in-house.

It was hard to argue with the logic of this decision, at least from a business and operational perspective for journal and publisher. Still, that very pragmatism seemed to me to be at odds with the oft-stated and primary mission of a society or academic institution to support knowledge creation and dissemination through its journal. What of the relationship the journal was intended to facilitate with scholarly authors and readers for the advancement of ideas and productive conversations? Curiously, that relationship was not explicitly included in the lists above (though I am sure both publisher and editor would insist it was implied).

I always appreciated that there were costs associated with journal publication so I never begrudged paying reasonable subscription fees to help with cost recovery and journal sustainability. That I often had a physical artifact to place on the shelf was simply a consequence of scholarly communication in the print era. But for me a journal was always primarily a medium of communication, not a commodity in its own right. While not unsympathetic to the struggles of society and institution journal editors expressed above, the dramatic increases in subscription prices now in the hands of commercial publishers provoked a jarring realization that something wasn’t right.

I cannot recall when I was first introduced to the concept of open access as an alternative publishing/dissemination model for scholarly journals. (I believe my first systematic exposure was gained by reading John Willinsky’s The Access Principle (MIT Press, 2006).) But I do recall the moment when I began to really think about the viability of open access for the disciplines of theology and religious studies. It was after reading an article written by Kevin L. Smith in a 2009 issue of Theological Librarianship, an open access journal published by the American Theological Library Association (for which, incidentally, I currently serve as Columns Editor). The article is entitled “Open Access and Authors’ Rights Management: A Possibility for Theology?” (link to PDF). I engaged with that article in an early post on the blog. I would invite you to read that original post from December 2011.

One of the most significant take-aways from Smith’s article became formative in the life of this blog. He talked about “the task of building an open access culture” in theological and religious studies. This struck me as a profound idea, and this was my response in the post:

When I first read that phrase “open access culture,” I was instantly captivated by its significance. I want to thank Kevin Smith for giving me something powerful to hang the mission (the “task”) of this site upon. Embracing or promoting open access isn’t just a matter of pragmatics, techniques, or technologies. Open access is a way of approaching the creation and dissemination of information that involves certain attitudes and behavioral characteristics. As such, it truly is a culture, and one that takes further unique shape within the scholarly discipline where it manifests itself. Open access culture within the study of religion or theology may share certain applications and outcomes with chemistry, physics, or economics, but … it also integrates each discipline’s unique research traditions and values/commitments.

Most of Smith’s ideas are yet to be significantly realized now two and a half years since his article was published. But true and enduring cultural change takes time, even in the digital age. The accretions of print culture weigh especially heavy on the sensibilities of scholarship in the humanities and theology. It is a big job to build an alternative infrastructure to support a cultural shift like open access. But I’m optimistic, and through Omega Alpha, I’m here to help with the task.

If nothing else, the blog provided me with a conduit to learn more about open access and to try to stay abreast of developments in the larger field. It was particularly gratifying for me to speak with editors of new journals (like Religion & Gender, which launched at just about the time I was getting the blog started) and existing journals (sometimes for many years existing—like the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, which celebrated 20 years of publication in early 2014!) in theology and religious studies, and to make these efforts better known through the blog.

But although I enjoy writing, it is a hard process for me and takes a lot of time. I have a propensity for long-form writing and editing as I go. The pressure of the blogging environment while trying to build and sustain a reading community, staying on top of news, developments, etc. was taking some of the joy out of the process for me. More positively, I also saw the potential and relevance of expanding coverage of open access beyond just journals to include monographs, open access tools, digital collections, open scholarship, etc., but quickly felt overwhelmed addressing these topics as a solo exercise. At the beginning of this year, I enlisted the interest and aid of Dr. Peter Webster, an independent scholar of modern British Church History and a digital assets consultant from the UK, to join me as a partner. I first met and interviewed Peter a couple years ago in association with the Open Library of Humanities project.

I have very much appreciated having Peter on the team. But as it happens, at about the time Peter got started with the blog I was getting increasingly preoccupied with another project of a more personal nature to which I wanted to dedicate more time. I asked him if he would be willing to takeover the blog, and I would step back as an occasional contributor. Peter agreed.

Given his expertise and well-developed network, I look forward to the developments in open scholarship and communication that Peter will bring to the blog. Despite this change in leadership, I anticipate that Omega Alpha | Open Access will continue its commitment to participate in the task of building an open access culture in theology and religious studies.

Posted in Commercial Publishing, Open Access, Scholarly Associations, Scholarly Journals

New British Library metadata for theology and church history

Webstory: Peter Webster's blog

Less well-known that it should be is the British Library’s recent venture of making subsets of its collection metadata available for download and reuse on a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication basis.

Of particular interest is a dataset extract from the British National Bibliography in March 2015 for theology, subdivided into monographs and serials. The BNB extends as far back as 1950, and my count suggests that there are some 119,000 entries in the monograph file, and 4233 for serials. This looks to be a incredibly rich resource for thinking about the discipline in the last few decades. My initial searches suggest that there is a great deal here for ecclesiastical history as well.

The files may be downloaded near the foot of this downloads page.

Update:  special care is required in the period before 1960, as there is a very large slump in numbers of monographs included between…

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Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source: field notes from the SeNeReKo project

[A guest post by Frederik Elwert, post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Religious Studies at Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany. He is to be found on Twitter @felwert ]

The Center for Religious Studies (CERES) at Ruhr-University Bochum is a great place to study religion, with a variety of scholars from different backgrounds contributing to interdisciplinary research projects. But despite its innovative research, it still inherits much of the conservatism of its constituent disciplines, Religious Studies, Theology, Indology, Islamic and Jewish Studies, and others. When we started with SeNeReKo, a small digital humanities project, in 2012, we got an opportunity to learn many new lessons on open scholarship.

I am glad to have the opportunity to share some of my ideas on this topic here on the OA-OA blog. I will not talk about Open Access, probably the last step in the research cycle, although colleagues of mine at CERES recently started collecting experiences with that as well, launching a small Open Access online journal called Entangled Religions last year. Instead, I will focus on the prerequisites of open research, which play an even greater role in the digital humanities: Open Data, Open Standards, and Open Source.

Open Data

SeNeReKo is short for the rather lengthy title “Semantic and social network analysis as a tool to study religious contact”. That title highlights the methodological focus of the project. In fact, when funding this project (along with 23 others), it was the German ministry of education and research’s intention to use previous years’ digitisation efforts as a starting point for advances in the analysis of existing collections. The data is there, now what to do with it? It was important for us not having to digitise sources ourselves, something we would not have been able to do within the project’s time frame. But we still learned a lot about the difference between “existing data” and “reusable data”.

There are plenty of religious sources available online. A plethora of websites allows one to read and query databases of religious texts. But terms of use differ a lot, if they are made explicit at all. This is striking, given that most of these texts are some hundreds (or thousands) of years old and should be seen as a common good. But in many cases, specific translations, editions or collections are restricted in access. But in order to re-use data, it is important to have full access to the data. This is a legal as well as a technical problem.

On the legal level, one must have the right to access, store and process data. Without being an expert in this area and without elaborating on differences between countries, this is often covered by academic freedom. In the case of digital projects more crucial, however, is the right to re-distribute: In their presentation of research results, digital projects are not limited to quoting small snippets of the text. They can also display a complete re-sampling of the original data, providing not only results of interpretation, but also tools for interpretation. This requires permission to present and thus to re-distribute the data. (Or only to provide a very limited “distant” view on the data that does not allow one to re-assemble the original text, like in Google’s ngram viewer.)

But there is also a technical challenge: In order to re-use data in innovative ways, one has to have access that goes beyond of what the search interfaces of the collection’s website allows. If we want to re-model religious texts as networks of meaning, then we need to have all the information the source edition provides in a machine-readable form.

In our case, we were particularly interested in the Buddhist Pali Canon and in Ancient Egyptian sources as two exemplary cases. For both, digital editions exist that are regularly used by scholars in the respective fields. The Pali Canon is available in the Chattha Sangayana edition. This edition has previously been sold on CD, but since some years, it is freely available online. More interestingly, the website makes the machine-readable source files available in an (albeit outdated) TEI-XML format. However, the Vipassana Research Institute that publishes this edition does not explicitly state under which terms the data are available. After contacting them, we found them to be very liberal and open, but the case shows the problem of missing licenses that make it difficult to re-use data, even if it is published with an implicit motivation to allow various use cases.

A collection of Ancient Egyptian texts is available from the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Their website provides quite sophisticated search options, translations, and links each word in the texts to the project’s dictionary. But the texts are available only through the interface the site provides. There is no way to download the underlying source data in a machine-readable format for further analyses. We found the Academy to be quite responsive to our requests, but it required lengthy negotiations with legal counsels involved on both sides until a data sharing contract was signed. As part of the contract, the Academy provided us with an XML export of their internal database, giving us access to all the information hidden behind the web interface.

For open scholarship to thrive, we need open data. In my opinion, especially large collections and editorial projects cannot regard their data as a treasure that must be protected. These institutions are rather infrastructure providers, they should allow others to use their data in creative ways in order to generate new insights. Open licenses, as they increasingly emerge for Open Access publications, are also needed for open data.

Open Standards

Even after receiving the raw data from the Academy, we noticed that having the data is not enough: You also have to be able to read them. Reading Old Egyptian was not the issue, since we have competent Egyptologists in the project. But reading a project-specific database schema invented some 20 years ago with all linguistic information encoded using numeric codes proved to be an issue. It took us almost two years of data archaeology to decipher the format, which was only possible with the extensive help of researchers from the Academy who were familiar with the encoding schema.

When we planned how to deal with these project-specific formats, we decided to convert all the files to a standard format before actually doing our analysis. This allowed us to work on a common format for both our corpora, instead of adapting our methods to the specifics of each corpus’ format. And additionally, this allowed us to develop our software in a way that it can be applied to other texts and languages beyond our project with no or only little adaptation.

Still, finding a common format in practice is not always easy. Often, there are no official standards, but rather a collection of de-facto standards, sometimes competing with each other. And using a standard file format does not automatically mean that data can be exchanged between projects and tools. The Pali Canon already was available in a TEI XML format, albeit in an outdated version that still required some work. So using TEI as the basis for converting our corpora seemed to be the obvious choice, also given its spread in the digital humanities context. But TEI can be seen as a family of formats rather than as a definite standard, with many alternative ways of encoding the same thing. So we learned that it is not only important to have a standard format, but also to agree upon how the standard should be interpreted. And this can hardly be achieved on a general level, but rather one needs to have a limited community of people who share some goals and who agree on a way to build compatible editions. The EpiDoc initiative is a good example for such a community. For the case of more linguistically than epigraphically interested Egyptologists, an initial core group gathered in 2013 in Liège. People from the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae, Berlin, the Ramsès project, Liège, the Rubensohn project, Berlin, and some others (including us) started to discuss different aspects of data interoperability. This discussion continues, so we hope to achieve a certain level of compatibility in the near future.

All this goes beyond the core work of our project. We could have used the data as they were, transform them according to our needs, and do our analyses. But the data transformation took such a great amount of time that we felt obliged to spare future researchers these hassles. In an ideal world of open scholarship, a project like ours could just access the data in a common format and re-use it without major modifications. Documentation is a large part of this, but also collaboration: Interoperability cannot be achieved by one party alone, it requires agreement between data providers and data consumers. In this light, open standards are not just a matter of technical specifications, but of building a community that actively engages in dialogue.

Open Source

In the context of the digital humanities, but also in other disciplines that apply quantitative methods, analyses often involve writing code. When developing new analytical methods, this requires to implement them in code. But even when applying existing methods to one’s material, this can be expressed in code: Instead of browsing the menus of a statistical application like SPSS, the same analyses can be performed using code-driven statistical environments like R—and even SPSS allows to run analyses programmatically as code rather than through its graphical user interface. Instead of analysing networks using the buttons that Gephi provides, one can also run network analyses from Python.

There are two aspects that I think are important when thinking about code in the context of open scholarship: sustainability and reproducibility. Regarding the first point, almost the same arguments apply as with open standards: Of course, it is a good thing to provide code that is produced in research projects under an open source license. But in order to really have a sustainable open source project, this also requires writing documentation and building a community. We are trying to achieve this at least to a certain extend with our software for text network analysis, but only time will tell if we succeed.

But I think it is still relevant that we post our code online. That way, we allow other researchers to reproduce the analyses we performed, and possibly find errors that we overlooked. Ideally, every article we publish would be accompanied by the code for the underlying analyses. Since we constantly refine our methods, we make it possible to jump back to the state of our code that drove the analysis for a specific paper (see this example for my paper at the DHLU2013 conference). Anybody who ever tried to reproduce statistical analyses following only a description of the process knows what difference it makes to actually be able to inspect the analysis step by step. But this also affects publication strategies: new publishing formats and platforms like GitHub and Notebook Viewer for analyses in Python or RPubs for analyses in R allow to publish reproducible articles that embed the code that drove analysis. But they are currently mainly used by a very technical audience and not integrated into general open access publishing models. Ideally, the publication of articles and the publication of code would be intertwined, allowing for open and reproducible scholarship.


Open Access is but one building block of open scholarship—albeit a very central one. In order to make scholarship fully open, other components of the research cycle should be open as well. This affects open data (like freely available editions of historical texts), open standards (like TEI for text encoding), and open source (for reproducible analyses). Much research in Religious Studies and Theology is textual scholarship, and it would benefit a lot from open access to its sources. Still, I feel that there is yet a lot to improve, both technically and culturally.

Our work in the SeNeReKo project brought us into contact with many of these questions that we had not dealt with before. It was an opportunity to learn, to assess what is already possible, and to contribute our share to improve the situation. There is still a lot we know that we can improve in our own scholarly practice, and we have not yet achieved the level of openness that we strive for. But our research would not have been possible without access to data, standardised ways to exchange data, and open source software. I believe there is much to gain for Religious Studies and Theology on the way to open scholarship.

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Religious studies in the web archive: a new opportunity?

To paraphrase a former archbishop of Canterbury, this post is a call to hearken unto the cause of the archived web. Religious studies scholars were quick to embrace the emerging discipline of Internet Studies (1), and in particular to see the potential of social media as an object of study for understanding new ways in which individuals and organisations acted religiously online.

This enthusiasm has not been matched by a similar engagement with the archived web. The group of researchers engaged by the Institute of Historical Research and the British Library as part of a recent project included historians, archaeologists, and scholars of contemporary literature, economic life and sociology, but no scholar from within the broad disciplines of theology and religious studies. This is a shame, since the time coverage of the most long-standing web archives such as the Internet Archive is now nearly two decades. These resources now afford an opportunity to examine patterns of change in the recent past; questions that are out of scope for the more present-focussed field of Internet Studies. (I shall be arguing for a closer integration of these fields at a forthcoming conference in Oxford, in May.)

But what kind of inquiry does this new class of scholarly resource allow? At the most basic level, the existence of web archives allows scholars to consult versions of webpages that have either changed in important ways, or disappeared entirely. For example, the UK Web Archive has a copy of the aid charity Christian Aid’s stance in relation to the General Election in the UK in 2010, which is no longer live. Neither is the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church in England in the same election.

This kind of use is similar in kind to the sort of document study that scholars are accustomed to. But the nature of web archives as Big Data also allows a kind of ‘distant reading’: the discernment and interpretation of trends across larger bodies of material. I have myself explored the change in link structures in the UK web in response to a moment of religious controversy—the 2008 row concerning Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and Islamic shari’a law. Another example of this kind of approach is another blog post on the strength and number of inbound links to creationist sites in the UK.

Scholars interested in religious life and feeling in the nineties and noughties will before too long have to engage with the archived web. Scholars curious to know more could do worse that to start with some of the resources listed in the bibliography at Web Archives for Historians.

(1) See, for instance, the survey by Heidi Campbell in Charles Ess & Mia Consalvo (eds), The Handbook of Internet Studies (2011)

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Posted in Open Data, Open Scholarship, Open Tools

Open Library of Humanities Update, Part 2: More about disciplinary curation; a first Religious Studies content initiative; and partnering with libraries for sustainable funding

Open Library of Humanities
In Part 1 of this Open Library of Humanities Update, I reported that the article submissions platform, built in partnership with Ubiquity Press, has been launched and is now accepting submissions. I also introduced the Religious Studies and Theology Section editors. In Part 2, I want to indicate how disciplinary content published on OLH will be curated; announce a first Religious Studies call for papers initiative (an example of content curation); and describe OLH’s sustainable funding model.

Curated disciplinary content and traditional journals in a multidisciplinary environment

The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) has its own ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)—2056-6700—but it’s not a periodical or journal in the traditional sense. OLH is not a single society, association, or departmental title with a general or specific disciplinary focus that publishes articles ‘periodically’ in self-contained ‘issues’. Rather, it is a journal publishing platform that aims to involve a broad multidisciplinary constituency across the humanities. As I mentioned in Part 1, the megajournal platform model is designed to scale publishing capacity while bringing economic cost advantages. As a multidisciplinary gathering place, it can also stimulate interdisciplinary conversation and research.

Scholars used to the more traditional journal model may be concerned to know how their published research will be discovered/able in this multidisciplinary environment. I asked OLH co-director, Dr. Martin Paul Eve, if this might put some authors off.

The new megajournal is a space for those who want to submit to the platform for the broader benefits it may bestow (access, speed of publication, etc.). You are right that it is harder to attract submissions here because of the breadth. If a space is for everyone, there is a temptation for everyone to assume that it is not for them. We have a large number of pledged articles, though, and these are coming in. We are also in the process of crafting specifically shaped CFPs [calls for papers] for special collections in the areas of our editors’ expertise within the megajournal.

Jonathan Harwell, one of the Religious Studies and Theology Section editors also responded to this question.

The OLH platform is open for submissions from academics across the humanities, and some disciplinary sections have received more submissions than others at this point. With this in mind, our calls for papers are actively targeting those sections that have not received as many submissions yet. Since each Section Editor has a distinct disciplinary interest, it isn’t as if articles are being sent into a single pool for curation and peer review. Rather, the articles are delivered to specific editors according to the disciplinary emphasis. Scholars who find their homes in distinct disciplines within the humanities, as well as those doing interdisciplinary research, now have a major opportunity to submit their work to a broad megajournal that houses a cross-section of papers curated by editors in relevant disciplines.

So, again, OLH will be fully browsable/searchable like any robust modern web-based publishing platform. I imagine it will also be regularly crawled for search engine discoverability. But Section Editors will bring disciplinary focus through curation of published content. This could take the form of “overlay journals” or special collections (more on this in a moment).

Dr. Eve told me that the megajournal platform will also be used to host existing disciplinary journals that choose to convert to open access from a subscription model. These journals can maintain brand independence while utilizing OLH’s technical infrastructure.

Journals that come on board the OLH are a different matter and the focus on ‘overlay’ is perhaps misplaced. The idea here is that they can maintain their full autonomy of brand and peer review practice. They can accept submissions, run special issues, choose to operate on a rolling or issue-based publication schedule, etc. We will underwrite their costs and take on their technical platform. Therefore, if there are existing journals who would like to discuss this, we are interested in hearing from them. We are basically a publisher who can help run an OA journal without author fees.

The journals are ‘overlay journals’ in one specific sense, though. If the editors wish, we are developing the functionality to allow them to build a table of contents, in a separate space in their current ‘issue’, that points to articles elsewhere in the ecosystem. It’s a little like a retweet on Twitter. If an editor sees an article somewhere else in the OLH, and thinks it will be of value to their readers, we’d like them to be able to craft a custom ToC that demonstrates this. In this way, editors are valued for their curatorial role while articles may benefit from increased readerships.

First OLH Religious Studies curated content initiative: Call for papers: “Religious Subcultures in Unexpected Places” Special Collection

As I reported in Part 1, the formal launch of OLH is slated “between May and Summer” with an estimated 120 published articles (based on scholar pledges). The potential for usefully curating content with a disciplinary focus will be demonstrated at launch through a number of targeted disciplinary “special collections.” These special collections will be like thematic or special topics issues in traditional journals.

One such special collection is being planned by Religious Studies and Theology Section editor, Jonathan Harwell. He has just released a call for papers called “Religious Subcultures in Unexpected Places.”

Other Section Editors in religious studies and theology have a range of specific interests. My own emphasis is where those studies intersect with anthropology. That is the focus of this special collection. We’re aiming to publish 4-6 peer-reviewed articles. I’d appreciate your assistance in spreading the word regarding this call for papers.

Follow the link for more information.

How will OLH be sustainably funded? Library Partnership Subsidies

OLH received initial funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to kickstart the project and build out the technical infrastructure in partnership with Ubiquity Press. As has been mentioned, OLH will operate as a not-for-profit entity and will capitalize on the scalability of its web-based online platform to reduce costs. But how will it be funded sustainably if it is neither relying on subscription revenue—as most traditional academic journals do—nor planning on imposing author-facing charges—known as “article processing charges” or APCs, as many open access journals, particularly in the sciences, do?

For Martin Eve, the question of sustainability at OLH is first contextualized within a strong philosophy of commitment to access in humanities scholarly communications:

It seems clear to me that the market model for scholarly communications is failing us. Libraries and scholars share, worldwide, the same goal: for high-quality, peer-reviewed research to be published so that the broadest audience can get access. The subscription mode, though, has led to an access gap and budgetary crisis based on well-documented hyperinflationary price hikes. By contrast, other proposals to fund gold open access seem only to replicate this inequality on the author side: no pay, no say. The philosophy of the OLH model is that we will all get better value if we pool our resources to achieve our shared aim. In this way, there is no local concentration of costs, there is no exclusion based on authors being unable to pay and libraries of all sizes can make a meaningful contribution, relative to their own financial stature, for these disciplines, which lag behind the sciences on open access.

The innovative funding approach OLH has settled on is captured in Eve’s phrase “libraries of all sizes can make a meaningful contribution.” Currently, academic libraries are major purchasers of journal literature on behalf of their institution’s students, faculty, and researchers, typically through subscriptions on a title-by-title or bundled basis. Every library has to pay to assure ongoing access through a quasi-monopolistic system immune to normal pricing pressures. Ironically, the access that libraries are paying for is often to the very research produced by the scholars at their own institutions. In this system, libraries become mere purchasing agents facing continually reduced purchasing power as their budgets flatten, decline, or otherwise fail to keep pace with publisher inflation.

OLH is proposing a meaningful role for libraries to directly support the work of humanities scholarship at their institutions and beyond while helping to assure access for users at their institutions and beyond. The OLH Library Partnership Subsidies (LPS) [PDF] is a cooperative program that aims to leverage the modest on-going contributions of numerous libraries to reduce the cost of publishing open access articles on the OLH platform without requiring authors to bear any cost of publication. The more libraries that participate the lower the per article cost, facilitating greater publishing capacity.

In this illustration (from the LPS flyer), the cost to publish 250 articles per year on the OLH platform is estimated at $185,000 (or $740/article). But distributed across an increasing number of participating libraries, the cost per article borne by each participant falls significantly. The contribution required by each library also falls.

LPS cost illustrationWith this approach, the role libraries play shifts from purchasing agent to a direct funder of research communication. OLH envisions a further role for participating libraries as members of a Library Board, consulting in OLH governance decisions, including the inclusion of new disciplinary overlay journals.

Recently, OLH announced a partnership with the library consortium organization LYRASIS to serve as exclusive agent for signing up OLH library partners in North America (membership in LYRASIS is not required to participate). Yearly participation rates have been set in the United States for the following tiers:

  • $1,000 for 10,000+ FTE institutions
  • $750 for 5,000-9,999 FTE institutions
  • $500 for 0-5,000 FTE institutions

This looks like excellent value. To translate my own interest in this innovative project into productive support, I just signed up my library as a partner.

Posted in Economics & Business Models, Open Access, Open Access Journals, Peer Review, Publishing Platforms, Scholarly Associations, Scholarly Journals

Open Library of Humanities Update, Part 1: Now accepting submissions; Religious Studies and Theology editors in place

OLHlogoAn idea whose time has come often takes time to develop. Two years have elapsed since Dr. Martin Paul Eve first issued a call on his blog for participants to help build a “PLOS-style model for the Humanities and Social Sciences.” (I covered and commented on Dr. Eve’s call here.) A broad and deep response to this call from the humanities community internationally set this timely idea in motion through scholar-led organization and governance, seed grant funding, and lots of hard work. On December 2, 2014, the Open Library of Humanities site announced that through its technology partnership with the open access publisher Ubiquity Press, the submissions platform for the multi/interdisciplinary humanities “megajournal” is now open and ready to accept submissions! The formal launch of OLH with the publication of an estimated 120 articles (based on scholar pledges) is slated for “between May and Summer 2015.” You can visit OLH’s submissions platform here to learn about publication guidelines, and to submit your article. See also this announcement on the Ubiquity Press blog.

The “megajournal” concept leverages the ubiquitypresslogoscalability of a robust centralized online submissions and publication platform. Ubiquity Press has built the enhanced platform based on Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal Systems open source journal software. The platform will serve as a multidisciplinary humanities research environment.

OLH takes a broad, inclusive understanding of the academic humanities, from classics, religious studies & theology, modern languages and literatures through to political philosophy, critical legal studies, anthropology and newer subject areas such as critical theory & cultural studies, film, media & TV studies. (from the OLH Library Partnership Subsidies flyer)

Section editors have been selected and are tasked with receiving and pre-screening relevant disciplinary submissions, routing them to qualified peer reviewers, corresponding with authors, promoting OLH, etc. Additional editors will be engaged as article submission volumes increase or as subject expertise needs to be expanded. The section editors will also curate content into disciplinary “overlay journals.” As this content builds and overlay journals are identified (including established journals currently outside of OLH that might choose to publish their content in a co-branding relationship with OLH), authors can submit articles targeted to these specific discipline areas or journals. Since content across the platform will be browsable/searchable, the megajournal can also contribute to and support interdisciplinary research.

Religious Studies and Theology Section editors are in place

Speaking of section editors, a slate for Religious Studies and Theology editors have been selected and are now in place, ready to shepherd your submissions through the editorial and review process:

  • Jonathan Harwell, Collections and Systems Librarian, Rollins College, Florida, USA, with a research interest in the cultural history of Quakers in the Southern United States
  • Athanasios Koutoupas, a graduate student at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, with research interests that include Hellenistic Religion and Ptolemaic Egyptian History
  • Dr. Timothy Lubin, Professor of Religion, Washington and Lee University, Virginia, USA, teaches and researches on South Asian (Indian) Religious and Legal History
  • Dr. Thomas E. Phillips, Dean of the Library and Professor of Theological Bibliography, Claremont School of Theology, California, USA, with a research interest focusing on Luke-Acts in the New Testament
  • Garrett Brooks Trott, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Corban University, Oregon, USA, with a background in theological studies

I reached out to these editors and asked them how they learned about OLH; what motivated their interest in becoming a Religious Studies and Theology section editor; and if they could speak to their philosophy of/identification with open access. I received several very thoughtful responses to my inquiry, including this comment from Garrett Trott:

I found out about [Open Library of Humanities] as I was doing some research for a presentation proposal related to open access. I was really intrigued with the idea, particularly as OA really seems to be a “big thing” in the hard sciences—which I believe is in large part a reaction to what publishers have done with some major journals in the hard sciences. However, I do believe that humanities are not far behind—particularly as journal publishers (like Sage and Taylor & Francis) begin to look at taking over more humanities related journals. I really wanted to do my part to make future humanities scholarship available open access—and OLH does exactly that.

And Professor Timothy Lubin replied (excerpted):

My interest in this open access project is a symptom of my frustration with how proprietary practices have developed in the digital era, in the spheres of both dissemination of scholarship and delivery of educational materials. In both these spheres, for-profit publishers and distributers—perversely, given the opportunities for wider dissemination of information—found ways actually to drive up prices on scholarship and textbooks. A few conglomerates have come to dominate the scholarly journals and some monograph series, setting rates far beyond the means of many schools and other institutions. Meanwhile, copyright permissions for course packs, and prices of textbooks, are artificially inflated at alarming rates. …

Although I have good access to material behind paywalls on account of my university post, I have many colleagues in South Asia and Russia (and even some in Europe!) who are stranded outside the paywall. Most of my work pertains to Indian religious and legal history, but readers in India are unable to read much of what is published in the field, and as a result, scholarship there (and even public discourse) is often based on outdated information.

I would like to see this transition come about sooner rather than later, but I recognize that quality control is crucial—open-access should not come to be associated with second-quality work declined by the premier presses. Tenured faculty need to take the lead, so it is in that spirit that I threw in my hat.

I have been impressed by the visibility religious studies and theology is garnering at OLH, including the level of scholarly representation from our disciplines at the organizational level (as I wrote about here*). I think this bodes well, and I look forward to continuing developments.

In Part 2 of this post I want to indicate how disciplinary content published on OLH will be curated; announce a first Religious Studies call for papers initiative (an example of content curation); and describe OLH’s sustainable funding model.

*Note: Peter Webster is now a partner with me here at Omega Alpha. But the blog is not otherwise affiliated with Open Library of Humanities.

Posted in Economics & Business Models, Intellectual Property & Copyright, Open Access, Open Access Journals, Peer Review, Publishing Platforms, Scholarly Journals

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